The Routt County Board of County Commissioners gave its blessing Tuesday to the use of $256,000 in dedicated property taxes to help conserve the Devil’s Grave, an 840-acre parcel within the larger South Routt cattle ranch owned by brothers Jim and Dean Rossi.
The acreage, used primarily for cattle grazing, is named after a landmark butte that rises from the sagebrush in an area of South Routt County already known for the unobstructed views of the 11,000-foot peaks of the Flat Tops Wilderness. The new easement will link to previously conserved parcels on the ranch.
Asked by County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski how the Devil’s Grave acquired its colorful name, Dean Rossi replied, “That was a long time ago. Some surveyor thought it looked like there was a headstone at one end and put that name on it. It’s on the maps going way back.”
The latest conservation easement on the ranch, where the fifth generation of Rossis is growing up today, also marks a significant footnote in the county’s decades-long efforts to protect historic land use practices here.
The easement was facilitated and will be held, by the Yampa Valley Land Trust. Land Trust Executive Director Susan Dorsey confirmed Tuesday that the initial easement placed on the Rossi Ranch in 1996 was the first of its kind in Routt County with funding assistance from Great Outdoors Colorado.
In those days, she said, Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program was not yet in existence.
The Rossi brothers agreed Tuesday that the conservation program they have undertaken, in particular the original 1996 easement, has enabled their families to stay on the ranch.
“It’s benefitted us and our families,” Jim Rossi said.
Dean Rossi observed that the number of original families still operating cattle ranches here is dwindling. Their family was able to purchase a previously conserved property that adds to the viability of their agriculture business.
Funding for the county’s PDR program comes from 1.5 mills of voter-approved property taxes that were last renewed in 2006.
The PDR program is intended to give landowners an economically attractive alternative to selling land for development by compensating them for the development rights they agree to put under a conservation easement. By giving up those future development rights, the owners typically donate more than half of the appraised value of the land.
In the case of the latest 840 acres due to be conserved by the Rossis, the easement was valued at $600,000. The contribution from PDR of $256,000 represents 42.7 percent of that amount. Other partners, including GOCO through its open space program, will contribute 38.5 percent. The balance of 18.8 percent, or $113,000, will be contributed by the property owners.
The Devil’s Grave section of the Rossi Ranch is situated along Routt County Road 17, is designated as part of the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway and is visible from heavily traveled Colorado Highway 131. It provides habitat that supports both greater sage grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, bald eagles, mule deer, elk, moose and mountain lions.